When worn by a royal, a strand of pearls is never just a strand of pearls. As with much of the jewelry worn by the new Princess of Wales, there’s a symbolic reason behind Kate Middleton’s recent apparent preference for pearl jewelry. It’s safe to assume that Kate has chosen her jewelry particularly to honor Queen Elizabeth II after her death, but you may not have previously been aware of the layers of meaning behind the layers of pearls. I definitely wasn’t.
Pearls were Queen Elizabeth’s favorite type of jewelry and were always associated with her unique personal style. And Kate has been seen in several pieces borrowed from the queen’s own personal collection, such as her large leaf broach, the pearl and diamond choker, and pearl earrings. Kate was also recently pictured wearing a triple-strand pearl necklace—identical to the one Queen Elizabeth wore every day.
But pearls are also steeped in royal family tradition. (What isn’t?) According to , Elizabeth’s fondness for pearls began when she was a little girl and her father King George VI—carrying on a tradition started by Queen Victoria—gave her a platinum chain to which he would add two pearls on each birthday. Wearing pearls as mourning jewelry is also a tradition begun by Victoria, famous for mourning her husband Prince Albert after his death for every day until she died.
Royals jewelry expert Lauren Kiehna told BuzzFeed News, “In Western cultures, white gemstones like diamonds and pearls, paired with black clothing, are traditional choices for mourning.” Makes sense! Plus, Kate Middleton will be inheriting most of this jewelry eventually in any case, so why not go ahead and make pearls her new thing?